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Observer Ethical Awards shortlist announced



The Observer has drawn up the shortlist for its annual Ethical Awards, celebrating projects, businesses and campaigns that are making sustainability a reality.

Now in its seventh year, the Observer Ethical Awards 2012 shortlist includes celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, campaigner and chef Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, eco-energy company Ecotricity and fruit and veg delivery scheme, Riverford.

The list of nominees was compiled and judged earlier this month by a panel consisting of Colin Firth and his wife Livia Giuggioli, Lily Cole and Ben Fogle, and can be seen in its full glory below.


Warren Evans – Producers of ethical beds and wooden bedroom furniture handmade in London.

Riverford – Online organic farm shop and box scheme.

Frugi – Online organic clothing brand for adults and children.

Campaigner (sponsored by B&Q)

Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall

Jamie Oliver

Caroline Lucas 

Unsung local hero (sponsored by The Body Shop)

Dr S. Oliver Natelson – A community campaigner who has worked for over 30 years supporting the local wood and nature reserve in Barnet. He also works for an organisation for the blind and campaigns about the negative impact of environmental changes on the habitat of bats.

Patrick Frew – A community leader in Ballymoney, Northern Ireland, who engages people of all ages in environmental action.

Digi Steps – Established by four students three years ago, Digi Steps aims to bring about digital inclusion for those most alienated from today’s technologies by providing one to one training sessions.


Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) – A national movement founded in 1990 in Cornwall that takes action against sewage pollution at surf breaks.

London Youth Rowing – A project that brings the sport of rowing to over 5,000 young people a year in London’s most deprived boroughs.

Dartford Football Club – A football club whose stadium tackles water recycling and has bike racks, a dedicated bus stop, a grass roof and solar panels.

Arts & Culture (sponsored by Festival Republic)

When China Met Africa – A film highlighting the new problems associated with the Chinese expansion in Africa.

As The World Tipped
 – A production from Wired Aerial Theatre, Liverpool, that combines aerial performance with film to create a dramatic outdoor show exploring climate change.

Artsadmin – A project that provides creative opportunities to allow artists to engage with issues and concerns whilst being proactive and inspiring against a backdrop of economic crisis.

Big Idea (sponsored by National Grid)

SafetyNet – A new trawling system that cuts down on the catch and subsequent discarding of juvenile and endangered fish.


Shared Interest Society – Based in Newcastle, Shared Interest Society is the world’s only 100% fair trade lender.

Fungi Futures – A company from Totnes that recycles tonnes of waste coffee grounds produced each year in the UK by growing gourmet mushrooms.

Fashion and accessories (sponsored by

Veja – Using organic cotton from agro-ecology initiatives in North Brazil, wild Amazonian rubber, and acacia tanned leather, Veja produces trainers and accessories.

Bottletop – An ethical lifestyle brand that delivers visible and measurable social impact both through its operational activities and through its foundation.

Ada Zanditon – A fashion design company that creates ethical women’s wear and accessories.

Business Initiative (sponsored by Jupiter)

Ecotricity – A green energy company and supplier and generator of eco electricity and gas.

Newlife Paints – Based in West Sussex, it aims to recycle waste emulsion paint back into a premium grade emulsion.

Ethical Fruit Company – A group of companies that specialise in sourcing, growing and packing fairly traded organically grown fruits for the UK market.

Blog (sponsored by

Department for International Development – Hannah Ryder – A blog from a UK civil servant showing how economics, poverty and action to avoid climate change and to protect the environment in developing countries relate to real life.

Upcyclist – Reports on artistic projects that show the innovative reuse of unwanted materials and objects.

Four and a Half Bellies – A blog charting the progress that a family of five makes towards planning, shopping and cooking more ethically and healthily, but also economically.

Grassroots Community Challenge (sponsored by Timberland)

Climate Change Schools Project – A not-for-profit-project that puts climate change at the heart of the national curriculum and makes schools beacons of positive action in their local communities.

Barlow Road Community Agriculture Project – A project working towards turning five acres of overgrown, fly-tipped land into allotments that will be used to supply fresh fruit and vegetables to local households via a bag scheme

The Edible Bus Stop – A community garden founded by locals on the Landor Road, London.

Ecover Ethical Kids Challenge 

Eco-sticks – Grows commercial amounts of hazel and willow on its school site to support local social enterprises supplying living willow kits, garden canes, biomass fuel and bentwood furniture.

Don’t Bottle Out, Bottle In! – A project with an idea to prevent the daily purchase of plastic drinks bottles in school so that it can be a plastic bottle free zone.

Fact Fashion – Draws attention to important issues, such as the conservation of scarce resources, by producing fashion items that display the powerful numbers associated with these problems.

The winners will be announced at a ceremony in London on May 30, 2012. In the meantime, we suggest you read our Guide to Sustainable Investment for insight into some of the ways your money can really make a difference, and look at Ethical Superstore for ethically-centred goods.

Further Reading:

Sustainable Finance Awards shortlist announced

New Energy Awards 2012: the winners

New Energy Awards 2012: an overview


7 New Technologies That Could Radically Change Our Energy Consumption



Energy Consumption
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Syda Productions |

Most of our focus on technological development to lessen our environmental impact has been focused on cleaner, more efficient methods of generating electricity. The cost of solar energy production, for example, is slated to fall more than 75 percent between 2010 and 2020.

This is a massive step forward, and it’s good that engineers and researchers are working for even more advancements in this area. But what about technologies that reduce the amount of energy we demand in the first place?

Though it doesn’t get as much attention in the press, we’re making tremendous progress in this area, too.

New Technologies to Watch

These are some of the top emerging technologies that have the power to reduce our energy demands:

  1. Self-driving cars. Self-driving cars are still in development, but they’re already being hailed as potential ways to eliminate a number of problems on the road, including the epidemic of distracted driving ironically driven by other new technologies. However, even autonomous vehicle proponents often miss the tremendous energy savings that self-driving cars could have on the world. With a fleet of autonomous vehicles at our beck and call, consumers will spend less time driving themselves and more time carpooling, dramatically reducing overall fuel consumption once it’s fully adopted.
  2. Magnetocaloric tech. The magnetocaloric effect isn’t exactly new—it was actually discovered in 1881—but it’s only recently being studied and applied to commercial appliances. Essentially, this technology relies on changing magnetic fields to produce a cooling effect, which could be used in refrigerators and air conditioners to significantly reduce the amount of electricity required.
  3. New types of insulation. Insulation is the best asset we have to keep our homes thermoregulated; they keep cold or warm air in (depending on the season) and keep warm or cold air out (again, depending on the season). New insulation technology has the power to improve this efficiency many times over, decreasing our need for heating and cooling entirely. For example, some new automated sealing technologies can seal gaps between 0.5 inches wide and the width of a human hair.
  4. Better lights. Fluorescent bulbs were a dramatic improvement over incandescent bulbs, and LEDs were a dramatic improvement over fluorescent bulbs—but the improvements may not end there. Scientists are currently researching even better types of light bulbs, and more efficient applications of LEDs while they’re at it.
  5. Better heat pumps. Heat pumps are built to transfer heat from one location to another, and can be used to efficiently manage temperatures—keeping homes warm while requiring less energy expenditure. For example, some heat pumps are built for residential heating and cooling, while others are being used to make more efficient appliances, like dryers.
  6. The internet of things. The internet of things and “smart” devices is another development that can significantly reduce our energy demands. For example, “smart” windows may be able to respond dynamically to changing light conditions to heat or cool the house more efficiently, and “smart” refrigerators may be able to respond dynamically to new conditions. There are several reasons for this improvement. First, smart devices automate things, so it’s easier to control your energy consumption. Second, they track your consumption patterns, so it’s easier to conceptualize your impact. Third, they’re often designed with efficiency in mind from the beginning, reducing energy demands, even without the high-tech interfaces.
  7. Machine learning. Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies have the power to improve almost every other item on this list. By studying consumer patterns and recommending new strategies, or automatically controlling certain features, machine learning algorithms have the power to fundamentally change how we use energy in our homes and businesses.

Making the Investment

All technologies need time, money, and consumer acceptance to be developed. Fortunately, a growing number of consumers are becoming enthusiastic about finding new ways to reduce their energy consumption and overall environmental impact. As long as we keep making the investment, our tools to create cleaner energy and demand less energy in the first place should have a massive positive effect on our environment—and even our daily lives.

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Two Ancient Japanese Philosophies Are the Future of Eco-Living



Shutterstock Photos - By Syda Productions |

Our obsession with all things new has blighted the planet. We have a waste crisis, particularly when it comes to plastic. US scientists have calculated the total amount of plastic ever made – 8.3 billion tons! Unfortunately, only 9% of this is estimated to have been recycled. And current global trends point to there being 12 billion tons of plastic waste by 2050.

However, two ancient Japanese philosophies are providing an antidote to the excesses of modern life. By emphasizing the elimination of waste and the acceptance of the old and imperfect, the concepts of Mottainai and Wabi-Sabi have positively influenced Japanese life for centuries.

They are now making their way into the consciousness of the Western mainstream, with an increasing influence in the UK and US. By encouraging us to be frugal with our possessions, (i.e. using natural materials for interior design) these concepts can be the future of eco-living.

What is Wabi-Sabi and Mottainai??

Wabi-Sabi emphasizes an acceptance of transience and imperfection. Although Wabi had the original meaning of sad and lonely, it has come to describe those that are simple, unmaterialistic and at one with nature. The term Sabi is defined as the “the bloom of time”, and has evolved into a new meaning: taking pleasure and seeing beauty in things that are old and faded. 

Any flaws in objects, like cracks or marks, are cherished because they illustrate the passage of time. Wear and tear is seen as a representation of their loving use. This makes it intrinsically linked to Wabi, due to its emphasis on simplicity and rejection of materialism.

In the West, Wabi-Sabi has infiltrated many elements of daily life, from cuisine to interior design. Specialist Japanese homeware companies, like Sansho, source handmade products that embody the Wabi-Sabi philosophy. Their products, largely made from natural materials, are handcrafted by traditional Japanese artisans – meaning no two pieces are the same and no two pieces are “perfect” in size or shape.


Mottainai is a term expressing a feeling of regret concerning waste, translating roughly in English to either “what a waste!” or “Don’t waste!”. The philosophy emphasizes the intrinsic value of a resource or object, and is linked to hinto animism, the notion that all objects have a spirit, or ‘kami’. The idea that we are part of nature is a key part of Japanese psychology.

Mottainai also has origins in Buddhist philosophy. The Buddhist monastic tradition emphasizes a life of frugality, to allow us to concentrate on attaining enlightenment. It is from this move towards frugality that a link to Mottainai as a concept of waste can be made.

How have Wabi-Sabi and Mottainai promoted eco living?

Wabi-Sabi is still a prominent feature of Japanese life today, and has remained instrumental in the way people design their homes. The ideas of imperfection and frugality are hugely influential.

For example, instead of buying a brand-new kitchen table, many Japanese people instead retain a table that has been passed through the generations. Although its long use can be seen by various marks and scratches, Wabi-Sabi has taught people that they should value it because of its imperfect nature. Those scratches and marks are a story and signify the passage of time. This is a far cry from what we typically associate with the Western World.

Like Wabi Sabi, Mottainai is manifested throughout Japanese life, creating a great respect for Japanese resources. This has had a major impact on home design. For example, the Japanese prefer natural materials in their homes, such as using soil and dried grass as thermal insulation.

Their influence in the UK

The UK appears to be increasingly influenced by thes two concepts. Some new reports indicate that Wabi Sabi has been labelled as ‘the trend of 2018’. For example, Japanese ofuro baths inspired the project that won the New London Architecture’s 2017 Don’t Move, Improve award. Ofuro baths are smaller than typical baths, use less water, and are usually made out of natural materials, like hinoki wood.

Many other UK properties have also been influenced by these philosophies, such as natural Kebony wood being applied to the external cladding of a Victorian property in Hampstead; or a house in Lancaster Gate using rice paper partitions as sub-dividers. These examples embody the spirit of both philosophies. They are representative of Mottainai because of their use of natural resources to discourage waste. And they’re reflective of Wabi-Sabi because they accept imperfect materials that have not been engineered or modified.

In a world that is plagued by mass over-consumption and an incessant need for novelty, the ancient concepts of Mottainai and Wabi-Sabi provide a blueprint for living a more sustainable life. They help us to reduce consumption and put less of a strain on the planet. This refreshing mindset can help us transform the way we go about our day to day lives.

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